Developer Frogwares is known for its long history of games featuring the famous detective and his sidekick. Most would agree that its output has been inconsistent, with games like Crimes and Punishment having garnered high praise while others like Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of Mummy are regarded as one of the studio’s most underwhelming works. Its latest game, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One – while certainly the studio’s most ambitious outing, teeter-totters between being a great time and an excessively padded out adventure.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One sees players controlling a young Sherlock Holmes who is well on his way to proving himself, as he lands on the island of Cordona to visit his mother’s grave when he comes across a strange clue left at the grave by a painter. Holmes has his trusty old friend Jon alongside him during his travels, although it needs to be reiterated that he isn’t the John Watson that fans of the character might be familiar with. The tale is supposed to be a deeply personal one, as Sherlock descends down the rabbit hole of what actually happened to his mother – which will take him all across the island as he tries to peel the layers behind this long-forgotten mystery.
“The story itself might not be the most riveting or unpredictable, although the effort is certainly appreciable. Sherlock carries the same wits about him as you’d expect, although he is a much more vulnerable person this time around.“
The story itself might not be the most riveting or unpredictable, although the effort is certainly appreciable. Sherlock carries the same wits about him as you’d expect, although he is a much more vulnerable person this time around. However, the game doesn’t really go all-in with exploring Sherlock’s backstory and showing his naivety as much as I’d want it to, which makes it feel like a missed opportunity by a significant margin.
Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes games are known for their excellent voice performances, all of which stand true in the case of Chapter One as well. Characters deliver spot-on performances and witnessing Holmes and the mysterious Dr. Verner debating about the purpose of justice, art, truth, lies, and whatnot can be an absolute treat at times. The banter Holmes exchanges with his friend Jon holds a lot of charm in a similar vein. There’s also a fair bit of cinematic flair to the cutscenes too, as characters are constantly framed in a scene with high or low angles so as to make them feel vulnerable or powerful accordingly, alongside some other cinematography tricks which can keep the action interesting. However, all of this good stuff is heavily marred down by voice lines being completely out of sync and the lack of facial animations.
The plot itself isn’t paced very well too, as you are constantly taken out of the action to solve another mystery that might not be in any way related to your mother’s disappearance. For instance, a breadcrumb trail in the main case led to a friend’s house who unfortunately had an accident of his own. As you’d imagine, I had to solve the entire case that took multiple hours which ultimately led to a disconnected cutscene of a witness giving me the next piece of the puzzle – which again, was completely unrelated to the outcome of the case or the case itself. While it’s understandable that the game would want players to visit as many of the game’s locations as possible, the way it’s carried out makes it feel tacked-on and adds to the feeling of the story being excessively padded out.
“While it’s understandable that the game would want players to visit as many of the game’s locations as possible, the way it’s carried out makes it feel tacked-on and adds to the feeling of the story being excessively padded out.“
What makes this issue more excruciating is that the game already has the perfect format and the tools to solve such issues. Players are free to roam the isle of Cordona at their own will, which of course holds a ton of side activities to pursue. You can spend money building up your collection of disguises, you can buy furniture for the manor – and most importantly, you can pursue those side-quests littered all across the island’s four districts. The side-quests themselves consist of regular crime cases that you can tackle, memories of young Sherlock that you can uncover, and finally the Cordona Stories – which involve public cases like tracking down ghosts and the like. As such, it would have been in the plot’s best interest to entirely delegate distractions from the main questline to side-quests, which should have resulted in a much tighter, focused, and well-paced narrative.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One‘s gameplay mostly focuses on going from crime scene to crime scene and solving cases. That, of course, requires thorough investigation and collecting evidence – which is done by scouring through the crime scene in a meticulous fashion. You also have to talk to witnesses, which will provide more information – using which you try to reconstruct what actually happened at the crime scene. This involves taking into account all collected evidence and selecting the right silhouettes in your imagination to build the right narrative. Once all the pieces are collected, players have to join those clues together to make deductions – which leads to an eventual outcome. There can be multiple conclusions to a case, although I didn’t experience any substantial effects of choices I made in previous cases.
“ There can be multiple conclusions to a case, although I didn’t experience any substantial effects of choices I made in previous cases.“
Chapter One also features a combat system this time around. Unlike past entries which mostly had quick time events, you actually have to fight enemies with your standard-issue licensed pistol. As the rightful bringer of justice, you are encouraged not to kill any enemies rather use your surroundings to find interesting ways to stun them. It could be blasting a fire extinguisher, dropping a light bulb at one’s head, throwing a flashbang – which is a rather interesting spin on the formula. However, the AI felt pretty lackluster on the normal difficulty, and I was able to breeze past most enemy encounters and even Bandit Lairs which are challenge arenas with relative ease.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One is a pretty lengthy game, for those who want to see all that it has to offer. Rolling the end credits took me around 12-13 hours, which involved trying out just a few side activities in the world. Tackling all side-cases could take well over 40 hours according to a statement from the developer. However, the core gameplay systems – case-solving, choice and consequence, and combat are pretty thin to sustain a long and enjoyable runtime. After finishing the story, I loaded up an old save to experience more of the game – but eventually gave up as I was already done doing the same things again and again.
“The game also seems to suffer from frame-pacing issues alongside some frame-rate inconsistencies. “
On top of this, the game also suffers from a buffet of technical problems. NPC behavior can be weird at times as they glitch out and repeatedly keep walking into a wall, Sherlock’s running animations are hilariously janky, the draw distance is painfully low – even on a PS5. The game also seems to suffer from frame-pacing issues alongside some frame-rate inconsistencies. The game’s tutorials and help sections are pretty threadbare too, which makes getting to grips with the game’s multitude of systems a hassle. That said, it needs to be noted Frogwares is working on a patch to alleviate some of these issues that will go live on launch day.
For every one thing Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One does right, it misses the mark in another department by a solid margin. Witnessing the backstory of the detective is an enchanting prospect, but it is heavily marred down by technical inefficiencies and poor pacing. The combat is markedly better than prior entries, but it also gets stale pretty quickly. The isle of Cordona houses a ton of mysteries to crack, although you might just get bored doing the same things over and over again long before there aren’t any markers to chase on the map.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.